Explaining Fibromyalgia in Six Quick Points

Fibromyalgia is a term that has been thrown around for years. For many years the medical profession used Fibromyalgia as a catch all. People who had generalized pain that couldn’t be diagnosed would be given the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. The medical profession didn’t really seem to understand what caused it, and what could be done to treat it. In the past decade the condition has become much more understood and there are new diagnostic criteria that the patient must meet. I will discuss those shortly. Like many other conditions the more research that is done the more everyone understands it and it can be treated.

1. So what IS Fibromyalgia? The definition for this condition has evolved over the years. For now it is defined as a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in localized areas.

2. How many people have Fibromyalgia? Most recent estimates say that there are 3 million cases per year!! According to The National Fibromyalgia Association, Fibromyalgia is one of the most common chronic pain disorders. It is estimated that 10 million people in the U.S. are affected, and an estimated 3-6% of the world population. This condition is normally seen in women, approximately 75-90% affected are women. But it also occurs in men and children of all ethnic backgrounds.

3. What causes Fibromyalgia? Currently researchers are not exactly sure of the cause of FM. That being said more research is being done all the time that is leading in the direction of determining the exact cause. Most agree though that FM is caused by issues with the nervous system. They feel that those with FM will experience amplification of pain due to the abnormal way the nervous system is processing the signal. The newest research is leading in the direction that there may be a genetic predisposition in those who have FM. I expect to see a lot of new information coming on this front in the coming years!

4. What symptoms would a person with Fibromyalgia present with? The main complaints a person with Fibromyalgia usually present with the following: pain, fatigue, and sleep disturbances.

Pain– The pain that comes along with this condition is usually chronic and widespread. It can be felt all throughout the body and may vary in intensity. The pain can be described as stabbing, shooting, aching, throbbing or even as numbness and tingling. Usually people will complain of morning stiffness and abdominal pain until they get stretched out.

Fatigue– The fatigue associated with Fibromyalgia is much, much more than just being tired at the end of the day. This fatigue is an all-encompassing exhaustion that interferes with daily life! It is causes an inability to complete basic tasks.

Trouble Sleeping– Often times many people who have FM also have some sort of a sleep disorder that prevents them from getting a deep, restful, restorative nights sleep! This making the fatigue that much worse!

Cognitive difficulties – Many who suffer from FM will complain of “fibro fog.” Which is also known as brain fog. This is a symptom of fibromyalgia where you feel as though you can not think straight. You may have trouble understanding things, remembering things, or even losing things. All of which can be “normal” with Fibromyalgia. This is a form of cognitive dysfunction that comes and goes with FM.

5. How is Fibromyalgia diagnosed? In 1990 the American College if Rheumatology (ACR) developed classification criteria for diagnosis. The criteria included a history of widespread pain in all four quadrants of the body for a minimum of 3 months prior to diagnosis. It also required that the patient have pain in at least 11 of the 18 designated tender spots. In 2010 the ACR developed new diagnostic criteria that did not rely on evaluation of tender points. Instead focused on the person’s pain being widespread and accompanied with other symptoms like problems sleeping, and fatigue. They also take into account the cognitive issues that the patient may be feeling/dealing with.

6. How is Fibromyalgia treated? In order to effectively treat FM the symptoms need to be treated. Thus treatment is really about symptom management via medications,or other treatment modalities. Medications or other treatments like massage to reduce pain, sleep management and finding ways to lower stress are the main treatment modalities. Exercise and eating healthy, as with most conditions are encouraged to help lower the pain level. A person with FM will also need to discuss the cognitive difficulties they may be having with their provider so a proper treatment plan and recommendations can be made.

This was a quick and dirty way to explain Fibromyalgia, how many people are impacted, the suspected causes of FM, as well as the diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Even with the changes in diagnostic criteria and more research being done, FM is still not fully understood. And treatments often end up being trial by error. One medication/treatment may be prescribed and if that works they will continue it. If not, they will continue down the line trying to figure out what works for each person. And the fact that many will also experience a number of other symptoms and overlapping conditions, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Lupus & Arthritis can complicate things. That being said over the last decade the understanding of the disease has increased and they are always working on new medications for treatment of FM. Based on the trends over the last few years it should be expected that there will be big advances in the understanding and treatment of FM. This post just shows more clearly that those who suffer from FM are NOT alone! It also shows that patients need to continue to advocate not only for their own care, and the care of others who can’t advocate for themselves. And more focus needs to pushed through the proper government channels to advocate for more money for research of this condition!

With Love,

Amber

Exercising with Chronic Illness

Exercise is not something I have talked a lot about in previous posts. Because it’s not something I have been doing. And it’s not something I enjoy, or to be honest know that much about. But honestly it’s time! The cardiologist cleared my heart and we are looking at my lungs. But recently a doctor that I love and respect very much reminded me that the shortness of breath and high heart rate I have been experiencing could be something as simple as deconditioning. So it’s time for me to get back to exercising. And to make getting fit a priority. As I started researching how I should get back into the fitness world I thought others could use the information as well. So today I wanted to share a bit of information on what kind of exercise is good for those with chronic illness/pain and joint issues.

Before we get into any suggestions about exercise I wanted to remind you about a few things.

  • Before beginning any exercise program you should ALWAYS contact your physician to get the okay.
  • You should always start with low impact and go slow! You can increase your impact and intensity slowly.
  • Always move at your own pace and never try to keep up with someone you are with or with a class.
  • Lastly if your pain level increases by more than 2 points from where it was at the start of the exercise you should stop &/or modify that specific exercise to try to ensure that you don’t cause a flare.

It is recommend that everyone do a combination of stretching exercises, strengthening exercises and cardiovascular exercises! Stretching will help to increase flexibility, loosen any tight or stiff muscles, as well as improve range of motion. Everyone should be doing some stretching EVERYDAY!! Strengthening will help to build up muscle strength. And cardiovascular exercise has a plethora of healing benefits. Now let’s look at what specific cardiovascular or aerobic exercises you could be doing.

1. Walking – is an excellent form of light aerobic exercise. It helps to bring oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, helps rebuild stamina, boosts energy, and will reduce stiffness and pain. Other options of low impact aerobic exercises would be riding a stationary bike or using an elliptical.

2. Yoga – Practice the most gentle kind of yoga you can, preferably the Hatha form of yoga. This kind of yoga is a combination of postures, breathing, and meditation that will reduce the physical and physiological symptoms of pain. A study that was published in the Journal of Pain states that participants reported significantly less pain when doing yoga. Yoga will also help to build endurance and energy while improving sleep and concentration.

3. Tai Chi – The benefits seen with tai chi are very similar to those seen in those who do yoga. Tai Chi is a very low impact kind of exercise where the participants slowly, gradually and gracefully preform a series of movements. Studies show that this form of exercise may even be better to relieve fibromyalgia pain than yoga!

4. Swimming & Water Aerobics – Any exercise in the water is good for people with chronic pain or joint issues. It is also an excellent alternative to walking for those with mobility issues. Being in the water provides a low-impact cardiovascular exercise that helps to keep you moving without putting added stress on joints and muscles.

The last point I want to make applies to all people. Not just those who are chronically ill. It is something I have struggled with love you whole life not just the last six years since I’ve been diagnosed. I don’t know about all of you but if I don’t have an accountability partner I am less likely to stay accountable and stay on track. If I have someone who is checking in on me a few times a week saying hey how is your diet, and how is your exercise routine going? I am more likely to actually stay on top of those things. So I strongly recommend finding someone in your life to be that person for you. So make sure you find someone to help you stay on track.

We took a brief look at some exercises that are good for those who have chronic pain or have joint issues. So maybe this will give you an idea of where you could start. I did not cover stretching directly because most people have a basic idea of how to stretch. I also didn’t cover strength training, because it can be very complicated and vary dramatically from one person to the next. However, there are articles for reference on both below. If you do plan on starting a new exercise plan please let me know what you plan on doing. I know for me having an accountability partner works best for me. If I don’t have someone to keep me accountable then I won’t stick to my plan as well as I do with that partner. So that is also something for you to keep in mind. If I can help you in any way please let me know. I would be very happy to help!!! I hope this helps some of you. Below are some articles for references on exercise with chronic illness for you.

With Love,

Amber

References:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise-and-chronic-disease/art-20046049

Expert Advice: How to Overcome Obstacles to Exercising with Chronic Illness

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/in-depth/arthritis/art-20047971

https://www.fmcpaware.org/exercise/strength-training-for-the-person-with-fibromyalgia.html